Saturday 16 December 2017

Rise of robots 'cyber-bullying threat to teens'

Expert warns of risk to children as artificial intelligence develops

Deimante Vagdaryte (17) from Dundalk, Hugh Ross (14) from CBC Monkstown, and Megane Clarke (16) from Dundalk at the annual Safer Internet Day 2017 at Facebook’s International. Photo: Andres Poveda
Deimante Vagdaryte (17) from Dundalk, Hugh Ross (14) from CBC Monkstown, and Megane Clarke (16) from Dundalk at the annual Safer Internet Day 2017 at Facebook’s International. Photo: Andres Poveda
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

Robots could be the cyber- bullies of the future, according to an educational psychologist at Trinity College Dublin.

Daily developments in robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) bring with them a growing threat of online aggression from non-human sources, according to Dr Conor McGuckin, an assistant professor in Trinity.

"We are concerned about this - the reality that the bullies could be a mixture of both children and robotic/AI devices," he said.

Dr McGuckin, co-editor of a new book on cyberbullying, said now was the time to begin to prepare for future challenges, including an age where robotics and artificial intelligence will be the norm.

Read more: Katherine Donnelly: Online safety needs same approach as teaching youngsters rules of the road

The book, 'Bullying and Cyberbullying: Prevalence, Psychological Impacts and Intervention Strategies', is an international review of knowledge of the area by leading researchers. It also deals with online radicalisation of children and young people by extremist groups. Co-edited by Dr Lucie Corcoran, of Dublin Business School, among the findings are that cyberbullying needs to be understood in the wider context of society and the history of aggression and violence, intervention programmes aimed at reducing face-to-face bullying can also reduce cyberbullying, and high priority needs to be given to understanding the mechanisms of online radicalisation.

Dr Conor McGuckin of Trinity College Dublin. Photo: Sharppix.ie
Dr Conor McGuckin of Trinity College Dublin. Photo: Sharppix.ie

Dr McGuckin said their main goal in producing the book was to support children and young people in enjoying the benefits that come with the online world, while also protecting them from harm.

"This 'always-on' generation are suffering greatly in silence," he said. "Emotionally, they really struggle to keep up with the new developments, whether it's apps, sexting or radicalisation, among other issues. We are very concerned about the mental health and well-being of these youngsters."

Dr McGuckin described the speed of escalation regarding cyberbullying as frightening, with huge challenges ahead, and said that, while schools and teachers were doing a "phenomenal job", there was a responsibility on all adults to build an ethical and moral society. He said parents and adults did have the personal resources to help and "it just takes a bit of confidence".

Dr McGuckin said challenges included the capacity to attack an individual at any time of the day or night, the global audience, anonymity and the difficulty in retrieving widely disseminated data.

He added: "There were very real decisions to make; do we continually tolerate aggression and violence among our children, or will we practice what we preach to each other on social media about the injustices across the world?"

Irish Independent

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